Homegrown County Businesses on the Forefront of Sustainability

February 1, 2022
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For over a decade, Montgomery County has prioritized climate action in its work. In June 2021, the County released its Climate Action Plan, a roadmap for the County to reach zero emissions and increase resilience. However, government action alone is not sufficient to achieve our climate goals. The County’s business community plays a critical role in ensuring an equitable and sustainable way of providing goods and services.

Montgomery County has a growing community of innovative green businesses, many of which are led by women and women of color, groups that are frequently underrepresented in this area. We interviewed two of these businesses: Passion to Seed Gardening, founded and led by Tanya Doka-Spandhla, and Solar Mowing, founded by Lyn DeWitt and co-managed by Anna Kelly.

Passion to Seed Gardening

Tanya Doka-Spandhla first started farming in a community garden in Germantown, aiming to provide the kind of organically grown produce she had grown up with in Zimbabwe. Inspired by positive feedback from family and friends, Tanya entered the New Farmer Project with the Montgomery County Department of Agriculture in 2015 and started Passion to Seed Gardening. The farm offers a variety of fresh produce, featuring vegetables from the southern part of Africa.

Tanya’s mission is to grow produce organically and sustainability, without any chemicals and a limited amount of mechanization.

“I told myself in 2015 that I’m not going to use any chemicals whatsoever on the land that I love,” Tanya said. “Nine years without pesticides, herbicides, weed killers; I practiced that and grew my produce sustainability and organically, without any chemicals. I’m also a strong believer in the biblical concept of dust to dust. I use that concept in my farming as well. I have to feed the soil with natural organic matter if I am to reap good and healthy produce. And also when I leave this Earth I have to do my part in making it a better place than when I found it, for the sake of future generations.”

Looking to the future, Tanya aims to start a comprehensive composting initiative that will help farmers grow more sustainably and give opportunities for minority business owners in the county to talk about their experiences and sustainable course of action.

 

Solar Mowing

In 2009, Lyn DeWitt started Solar Mowing with a mission to benefit her community and encourage sustainability. She describes the negative effects of traditional lawn equipment on her family, noting the unpleasant noise and smell of gasoline. It inspired her to buy a battery-powered mower, charged using renewable energy.

Now, her daughter Anna Kelly has joined the company and helps to further their mission. Anna got a first-hand perspective on establishing a green and women-owned business, and said, “I loved watching it, and it was so cool to watch my mom start her own business.”

Anna cited workers’ health as another motive for their approach; “If you’re dealing with gasoline – leaf blowers, especially – mowers and trimmers all day and you’re breathing in the fumes 100% of the time, that’s not ideal. So to give people in the landscaping profession the empowerment, the choice to work for a company where they’re not going to have those negative health impacts is great, too. There’s asthma, heart disease – all sorts of things have been tied to the pollution that comes from leaf blowers’ gasoline equipment, so the human health part is big, as well.”

Solar Mowing is hopeful in providing more customers with a safer alternative to traditional mowing that would prevent health problems in the long-term. By expanding their business and reaching new partners, they plan to share in the continuous effort of reducing carbon emissions. They would love for more companies to adopt the practices they have been using to address climate change and educate the public on energy misconceptions.

Photo courtesy of Solar Mowing: From left, Anna Kelly and Randall Hitchins, co-managers of Solar Mowing, stand with company founder Lyn DeWitt at a recycling bin in downtown Bethesda. Solar Mowing sponsored the bin through a program with Bethesda Green and the Bethesda Urban Partnership.

For both businesses, sustainability and a commitment to climate action have centered their work. Tanya notes that farming sustainably is a way to contribute to broader climate action and to promote climate resilience in her community. For Anna and Lyn, providing customers with a green alternative to traditional mowing is a form of empowerment at a time when many people feel powerless in the face of climate change. Ultimately, both businesses highlight that action at the community level can set a powerful example for systemic evolution.

Investing in Green Businesses

Both companies exemplify why communities and local governments must support and facilitate these kinds of revolutionary businesses. Tanya described how she used the County’s New Farmer Project to obtain initial funding for her farm. With the grant she received, Tanya was able to purchase the necessary equipment and fencing for the property. Tanya explained the importance of this funding, remarking that “if you’re going to do a farming business as a startup without capital, it’s really hard to get off the ground.” The New Farmer Project also provided Tanya with agricultural education, giving her a better understanding of life on a farm and how to operate one profitably.

The County promoted Solar Mowing by advertising on the sides of buses and even visiting Lyn on the job to make sure the company was ready to be certified as a green business. “[The County] government is looking after the environment in such a way that they’re not going to certify you unless you do it right,” she noted. “The County was amazing and they promote carbon-neutral businesses.”

Accessible resources and consistent support make all the difference for small green businesses, which is why the County has compiled sources to help. Visit the Montgomery County Business Portal to find technical assistance, funding opportunities, and much more. Minority and women-owned businesses can find tailored resources. The Maryland Women’s Business Center offers counseling, workshops, and networks to help women build their businesses. If you or someone you know is looking to start a business in Montgomery County, be sure to have a look!

Shop Local!

In order to shop equitably and sustainably, it’s important to actively seek local, women-owned green businesses — particularly those owned by women of color. You can find more green businesses on Montgomery County’s Green Business Directory.

Written by Sara S. Blomquist, Susannah Auderset, and Mubassira Nur Montgomery County Climate Planning Team Interns



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